When Nisha Walunj, a homemaker-turned-restaurateur took over her family’s 20-year-old restaurant two years ago, the business was at the crossroads. The Walunj family venture, which had grown significantly over the years, was then shifting its focus from the restaurant business to their doorstep diesel-delivery business. Due to lack of time and resources to manage the operations, in fact, the family had even considered selling the restaurant.
But Chetan Walunj, Nisha’s son and also the Co-founder of Pune-based Repos Energy, wasn’t ready to give up on the family legacy. He was insistent that his mother takes over and revive their highway-bound restaurant – named Rajratna Executive- located in Chakan.
Hesitant, but hopeful of reviving the business that has immense emotions attached with it, Nisha agreed to take on this enormous responsibility in late 2018. She came on board, and added new divisions to the existent venture, including two 5-star banquets and a vegetarian fast food option.
Explaining this decision, she says, “Many guests who follow a strict vegetarian diet often get turned away at the restaurant. I wanted to cater to these guests and promise them pure vegetarian food through the live kitchen, separate set-up, and other arrangements.”
Nisha, 50, has introduced innovation in the daily operations too, including daily practice of meditation and pranayama, and an interaction session. This practice, she says, helps ensure that there is a personal connection with each and every staff member, who are very much a part of the family as they are of the business.
All about people and management
Born into a typical Maharashtrian household, in a village near Manchar (an hour from Rajratna Executive in Chakan), the art of management is something that Nisha learnt early on in her life.
“I am the eldest daughter in the family with three sisters and one brother,” she says. “While taking care of my family- siblings and a lot of other responsibilities- since a young age, I somehow managed to complete my schooling.”
It was also during these early years that Nisha picked up her now-valuable culinary skills. She imbibed the joy of feeding people from her father, who was an agricultural officer, while she learnt to cook by assisting her mother. The very culture of cooking and hosting feasts for loved ones, she says, came naturally to her; a quality which she would eventually carry into her married life as well.
In a new household, Nisha – who was just a teenager then - was tasked with numerous responsibilities as the eldest daughter-in-law. But her passion for cooking never faded away. In fact, her passion got translated into a business acumen which now serves her well.
“Since I took charge, the staff has grown from 20 to around 100,” says Nisha adding, “The majority of our customers are returning ones; the customer base has increased by 40-45 percent.”
In her opinion, the restaurant business is all about the ‘people’ and the ‘management’. There is no scheme or business plan that works better than love and the will to serve customers, like guests at home.
Setting new benchmarks
With new developments and enormous renovations in place, Nisha has registered a 30 percent growth in the restaurant business, in less than two years.
All this with a simple change in approach and an unwavering attitude. Says Nisha, “I agreed to join the restaurant business on one condition, that no one would interfere with my work or business style. If any help is required, I will always reach out.”
In these two years of breathing a new life into her family legacy, Nisha has gained a newfound confidence in herself and the business.
She says, her goal is to create a difference in the lives of her staff, especially the young professionals hailing from different parts of the country. “I treat them like my own children. I want to help them have a better life and a healthy and flourishing work environment,” adds the entrepreneur.
(Edited by Athira Nair)